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Rocket science has taken us to the moon and beyond, thanks in part to our understanding of Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newton would be surprised to learn how his third law also applies to digital government and social protection. 

I was recently in Casablanca, Morocco, attending the 15th ISSA International Conference on Information and Communication Technology in Social Security. As executives from around the world discussed advances in technology in human services, I pondered Newton’s theory and what it may tell us about how profound technological advances can ensure optimal benefits for society. 

Forward Progress Theory 1:  Social reactions affect pace of digital human services delivery

Digital technology is enabling advances in almost every field, including policy and service delivery. But do these advances come from forward motion only, or is a third law of motion effect in play? With every positive change driven by technology, there are reactive forces. Business processes change, industries transform, jobs come and go, and companies seemingly disappear overnight as new tech start-ups disrupt business models. These reactive forces are often grouped together under the heading “change management”. In the past, we largely attributed the negative aspects as the inevitable consequences of progress – something to be managed. And manage them we did, sometimes rather brutally with the expression “get with the program or move on.” 

As the pace of digital-enabled change accelerates and public concerns over the use of personal data increase, it is time to consider these reactive or negative forces in the context of Newton’s third law. 

Rocket science tells us that forward motion is not possible without a reactive force. The potential benefits from digital technology within social protection are expanding at an incredible rate, as are the risks – misuse of personal data, ethics, cybersecurity, algorithmic bias and the moral hazards of decision-making with artificial intelligence. To maintain forward momentum while also committing to a fair and equitable social protection system, we need to increase our efforts to research these reactive forces and make them part of the solution. 

Forward Progress Theory 2:  Social protection demands social harmony

In transforming social protection to address critical social problems, progress needs to deliver social harmony. Governments, society and individuals facing social risk can have competing interests and priorities, which represent the reactionary forces to change. To find balance amongst these contradictory forces, let’s examine another time-honored theory. The Chinese principle of Yin and Yang treats existing things as inseparable and yet, contradictory opposites. These opposites attract and complement each other by reaching a point of harmony. When we apply this principle to digital government, the contradictory opposites are technological change and consequential risks.   

As we exploit personal data for insight-driven policymaking and leverage cognitive computing for advanced decision-making in social protection administration, we need to acknowledge and actively research the negative counterforces. We must develop a deep understanding and plan and prepare for these growing reactive forces if we are to realise the potential of digital government within social protection.  

As we continue to examine the complex issues of transforming human services through digitalisation and someone says, “it’s not rocket science,” we may find valuable insight in Newton’s laws of motion. 

To find out how human service agencies are moving towards the Era of Empowerment read our POV at Accenture.com or contact me directly. 

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